At work, and in life, I am often considered the model of temperance. I prefer little things. Small dogs, small cars, small problems. I strive for a life of minimal impact, and, to that end, I eat mostly, but not all, things that grow from the ground or drop down from the branches of trees.
Though there are times that I imbibe one martini more than proper, or polish off a pound of potato chips in a single hour, or dive face first into vat of ice cream, I do these things in the privacy of my own home, or with my more irreverent associates who are aware of my darker side, and thus cement my reputation of perfect calm, unwavering judgement, and classical harmony in an otherwise mixed up, muddled up, tangled up world.
Which is why my recent confession to a work associate, whispered by the water cooler, causing her to reel backwards and seek support from the peeling paint of the stairwell railings.
“I’ve been eating a lot of cookies,” I say.
She, breathless, intones, “really? You?”
“I’m not usually attracted to cookies,” I explain, “but I worked with a shaman weeks ago and she advised me to set up an ancestral altar. With rum, water, a shell, and sweets as an offering. Thus, the cookies.” I look sheepishly at my empty hands as if I am holding crumbs. “I buy the ancestors a variety of cookies. I don’t want them to get bored. Who knows what sweets are available to them, wherever they are? I eat the left-overs with my coffee in the morning after I wake them up with a lit candle. After all, who likes to eat alone?”
“I see,” she says, regaining her composure.
“It’s because of my sister,” I say. “One night in Iceland, she scrutinized me with a scientific stare across the kitchen table and said, ‘you’re not the same. Something is askew.’ She’s the reason I emailed the shaman. She’s the reason I’m eating so many cookies.
“It’s true. I have been edgy, sensitive, out of sorts. She suggested I speak with someone. But I don’t like talking.”
“Ahh,” says my work associate, “I see.”
“My aversion to talk therapy has roots over twenty years old, when, at college, the therapist I was seeing skipped all but one of our appointments. Years later, I tried again with a therapist who liked to spin.
“‘Stand by the door,’ she’d say, and I would. She was six foot tall. Opened wide, her arms touched the walls of the office. She would spin in that tiny room like a grotesque fairy. There were times I ducked to avoid being mauled by her spindly fingers. She’d stop suddenly, her arms bent in the shape of a tree in winter. Then, she’d tap me on the forehead three times. I’d sit and we’d resume talking.
“I considered her suspect from the start, but I wanted to see what would happen next.
“Every moment is a twisted knot, breathing, growing, groaning under the weight of our thoughts. If you find the right end and pull, sometimes you can find a beginning and a loose end before it ravels around itself again.
“I sat in the dark the night my sister said that thing to me, and searched the internet for answers.”
“It started well before the email I sent to the shaman or the email she sent back, that diagnosed me with a fractured soul. Before that conversation with my sister. I could blame the punk who punched me on a train ride home last February, but if I blame him, I must also blame the friend I was visiting that evening. And if I blame that friend, I should also lay blame of this ancestral cookie orgy of the friend who introduced me to that friend. Which means I must also place responsibility on the person who introduced me to the person who introduced me to the person who introduced me to the person I was visiting prior to being punched in the face.
“If you stop to think about it, goes as far back as my birth, his birth, their birth, and yours. Or maybe even farther than that. My story begins the moment we all set out on the crash course we call life on earth.
“Needless to say, this cookie situation goes deep.
“I see,” she says.
“I want to give my ancestors a range of culinary experiences, To date, we’ve shared: lemon wafers, ginger snaps, dark chocolate, an oatmeal cookie, apricot hamantaschen, and cinnamon rugelach.”
My associate nods her approval.
“They like rum the best. Straight up.”
A few minutes later, in the controlled chaos of a dimly lit backstage, my associate makes a suggestion. Recalling her youth, she tells me that in order to avoid eating sweets, her mother bought treats for her children that she, herself, would never eat.
“Thus,” confides my work associate, “the disproportionate amount of Malomars and Little Debbie Coconut Cakes I was subjected to as a child.”
“Did she give you Sno-balls, too,” I ask, my heart melting for my dear friend.
“I don’t remember.”
I refuse to offer my ancestors Ho-Hos and Twinkies, those mysterious apparitions who might live in a place where cookies are as rare as titanium and as precious as gold.
I am at the end of a long and wide line of humans who have given me something, a part of themselves. When we share our morning coffee and cookies, I wonder if they are satisfied with me, the end result of their efforts. Though I have two other sisters, and a young niece and nephew, we are all cut in different directions from the same cloth. But the mix is unique. I am me, with my small life and my small dog and my affinity for ginger cookies.
These thoughts swirl around me, up to the fly rail, and maybe beyond the hanging blacks and stage lights. Music playing and people talking, the only point of stillness is me.
For a moment, I’m desperate to ask someone outside of me who I am. Do I look more like a Russian peasant or German gentry? But there’s more than that, I’m glued together by generations of teachers, musicians, artists, and scholars.
“Maybe I’m just a cookie-pusher in the ancestral realm.”
“Offer fruit,” my associate suggests.
“I would do that, too,” I say, “but for the flies.”
This morning, we finished the bag ginger snaps. The last lemon wafer is stale, that banana walnut muffin is hard as a rock.
Tomorrow morning, I decide, I will treat us to French macarons.